The following message was written by Sara Llewellin, Chief Executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust and EFC Governing council member. 

Helen Rachel Cadbury

24 March 1965 – 30 June 2017

Helen Cadbury, Chair of the largest of the Cadbury family foundations – Barrow Cadbury Trust, acclaimed crime fiction writer and poet, amongst many other talents, has died from cancer at the age of 52.

Born to Charles Cadbury and his wife Jill Ransome in 1965, Helen was the youngest of four siblings, the oldest being Ruth, currently Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth and with two brothers, Tom and David, in between.  Charles Cadbury was the grandson of Barrow Cadbury who, in turn, was the grandson of the family company founder, John Cadbury. 

Helen attended King Edwards School School for Girls in Birmingham but moved to Hulme Grammar in Oldham as a teenager when her father’s job took the family to Saddleworth.  Always both headstrong and driven by Quaker values, Helen spoke at a CND rally in Manchester aged 16, something of which the school disapproved.  For sixth form Helen went on to her father’s alma mater, Quaker school Leighton Park where she flourished in the more non-conventional atmosphere. 

After a Drama and Film Studies degree at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, nurturing her lifelong interest in writing, drama and the arts, she went on to act in the legendary Hull Truck Theatre Company, and later still to teach drama in several prisons and young offender institutions.

In 1992 she met life partner, Josh Parker and they lived in Archway, North London.  Their first son Isaac was born in 1994.  Quickly realising that touring theatre was incompatible with having a young family, Helen trained as a teacher, with her first teaching practice at Quentin Kynaston, in St Johns Wood.  She went on to teach at Ackland Burghley in Tufnell Park, where she really began to get her ‘ear in’ to young people’s speech patterns, certainly to prove useful later

Helen was a lifelong Quaker and married Josh Parker, also a Quaker, at Hampstead Meeting House in 1998. The family moved to York in 2002, where their children spent most of their childhood and where Helen worked at York Theatre Royal as Education Officer, later teaching creative writing and drama at nearby Askham Grange Women’s open prison.  Her deeply held beliefs about penal reform and redemption had their roots in longstanding Quaker concerns and informed her work in the family’s philanthropic endeavours at the Barrow Cadbury Trust over many years.

Helen became a trustee of the Barrow Cadbury Trust in 1998 and served for a decade, leaving to pursue further academic study – an M.A. in creative writing and drama at Sheffield University (2009).  Her deeply held social justice convictions were the guiding principles of her personal, professional and philanthropic lives.  The Trust’s enduring commitment to justice in the areas of race, gender, economics and penal affairs perfectly reflected her world view and her contribution in pursuit of structural change in those areas will be felt by many for years to come.  She rejoined the Board of the Trust in 2011 and took over as Chair in 2013 when sister Ruth was selected to run for a parliamentary seat.  On being elected to that office, Ruth subsequently stepped down from the Trust.

Helen’s other unpaid work included Chair of Accessible Arts and media, based in York, from 2006-2013 and a term as a Trustee of the Quaker magazine, The Friend.

After completing her M.A., she started work on what become the Sean Denton crime series, based in Doncaster, where she had worked, and York.  Having entered a New Northern Crime Writers competition, she was one of six authors who were selected and published.  Her first novel To Catch a Rabbit (2013, Moth) was chosen by the Yorkshire Post in 2015 as one of the 13 books that best defined Yorkshire this millennium, and was joint winner of the Northern Crime Award 2015.  Second title Bones in the Nest was published in 2015 (Allison& Busby), and the third in the trilogy, Race to Kill (Allison & Busby) will hit the shelves in September, along with a book of poetry Forever Now (Valley Press) in November.

Helen’s breast cancer diagnosis in August 2015 came as a shock and within several weeks she had undergone a radical mastectomy.  After intensive treatment she recovered for a good few months, long enough to deliver the key note speech at Asia’s biggest ever philanthropy conference in Hong Kong in September 2016, something she was immensely glad to have done.  In addition, of course, she finished the third of the Sean Denton novels, for which TV film rights have also been sold to Red Planet Pictures, producers of Death in Paradise, WH Smith readers having voted To Catch a Rabbit number 12 in the top crime books they would like to see on screen.

Ardent environmentalists who loved the outdoors, Helen and Josh owned a small wood in Yorkshire and, after hearing Kumi Naidoo speak at the European Foundation Centre conference in 2015, she encouraged the Trust to a greater commitment to the sustainable development agenda.  Hers was a sparkling, funny, ever curious intelligence, always put to purposeful good use. 

There has been an outpouring of grief at Helen’s loss from both the literary and philanthropic communities.  She is survived by Josh, sons Isaac and Reuben, mother Jill, sister Ruth and brother Tom.


Sara Llewellin

Chief Executive, Barrow Cadbury Trust